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As Long as We Remember...

December 31, 2008

Fun A World Away

Tom McLaughlin

Santubong, Borneo – Getting used to some things here in Borneo takes time. I need to be careful with the traffic, a life threatening situation.


Here they drive opposite than we do. I have learned to wait a few minutes and to stop, and think, which way to look. I check both lanes of traffic before venturing out to cross the road. It also doesn’t help that I suffer from a rare form of dyslexia. I can’t tell my left from my right.


This comes after many near misses where I automatically looked the wrong way and proceeded across only to hear the scream of brakes and a bumper about 1 mm from my thigh. Remember, it is very, very impolite to use one’s horn here.


I have learned to apologize in about three different languages and some dialects. In most cases, they are the only words I know in that tongue.


Laksa Sarawak is a food highly recommended by all of the guide books. Both of them. It has a base of noodles with a watery stew like mixture of shrimp or chicken or beef, your choice, ladled on top. It looks like a tomato base. Harmless, I thought.


To be sure, I asked the tokay, "Pedas ka?” Tidak,” she answered. (Is it spicey hot? No) I ordered a bowl for about MR$3 or US$.075. I took the soup spoon, like the ones we all get in Chinese restaurants, and took a huge mouthful. Swallowed.


My tongue burned. There was no feeling in my mouth. My nose ran. My ears rang. Sweat poured off of me like a fire hose at an inferno. My vision blurred. Tears coursed down my cheeks. I swear my teeth melted. I choked and gagged.


The Chinese lady came over with a box of tissues. I motioned for water. She brought sliced cucumber and made gestures to put them in my mouth. The apocalypse slowly subsided.


The other patrons began to laugh and a flash of white hot anger almost erupted with “You think this is funny? I nearly died”. Then I remembered laughing here is not a sign of disrespect but one of emotional release. I then laughed with them. Wait until I get my hands on the white guy that wrote the guide book, I swore.


To be fair, the tokay (shopkeeper) probably thought it wasn’t hot.


Moving into my apartment, I enjoyed the cool showers. They felt good after being outside in temperatures ranging from the upper 20’s to low 30’s Celsius. After a while, I made a more detailed exploration of the place, wondering about which switch worked what.


Above the air condition controls on the wall are signs that read “Air-Con pls turn off when not in use.” This, of course makes sense. Above one switch was the sign “Heater. Please turn off when not in use.” Having come from a cold area, I wondered why they needed heat in the tropics and didn’t think much more of it


Sitting around the pool, I brought this up with the only other person who resides in the complex. “Why do they need heat,” I asked. “Does it get cool?” I knew people get sensitized to just a few degrees temperature swings, while in the states we tolerate 10 to 20 degree changes during the day. It can be in the upper 60’s F at night and rise to the low 90’s F by the afternoon.


He looked at me quizzically. I now enjoy warm showers instead of the cool ones.


I am sure I will have many more encounters that challenge my western experiences. But that is part of the fun of living here in Borneo.


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